MILLEDGEVILLE — Of the children in Baldwin County, 35 percent under the age of 18 are raised in a household at or below the poverty level. Various Georgia College organizations hope to bring awareness to the university and extended community about the local poverty rate and homelessness and ways to give back to the needy as part of ONE Week.
The Nonprofit Leadership Student Alliance (NLSA) kicked off a week of activities by hosting a poverty simulation Monday to allow fellow students to get a glimpse of what life is like for the impoverished individual and the hardships they have to overcome on a daily basis.
“The overall purpose is to raise awareness about poverty in Milledgeville, Georgia and throughout the United States, and advocating for poverty and talking about the issue,” said Melanie Hutcheson, community outreach coordinator for NLSA. “Georgia College did a simulation years ago, but we wanted to bring it up again as an annual event on campus.”
Individuals coming to the simulation were given fictional identities and a life story, headed to various tables to assist in their situation, and received water and a peanut butter sandwich from the soup kitchen booth. The make-believe scenarios included a successful CEO whose company went bankrupt, which led to the depletion of financial resources and loss of home, or a homeless drug addict who ran away as a teen and struggled to separate from a gang, drug addiction and a jail record.
“When visiting the Department of Family and Children Services table, we talk about Medicaid, food stamps and we highlight the obstacles of what people need to do to get help. We did a lot of research and we want to educate people that the government doesn’t just hand things out; people have to apply for these benefits,” Hutcheson explained Monday. “At the unemployment table, we talk about the obstacles people face when applying for an unemployment check. The housing table talks about the local Habitat for Humanity and explains that a house isn’t just built for a family; you have to put down a down payment and show that you’re working. We also have a mock thrift store, soup kitchen and an Act Now table to find out statistics, how to volunteer or donate to support the local community and fight poverty.”
Georgia College sophomore Rebecca Foster acted as a pregnant 17-year-old who dropped out of high school and lived with her boyfriend. She visited the unemployment table and thrift store.
“I’m going to be required to get a job, which will be hard to maintain throughout the pregnancy,” she said after the simulation. “This situation is fake to me, but this is something that happens daily to people. There are people who are dealing with this right now. It was cool to role play and put yourself in someone else’s situation.”
The director of Mercy House in Cartersville, Patrick MacCallum, also visited the campus to share his life story.
“He was in a transitional home for men. He used to be a drug addict and homeless,” Hutcheson said. “We can actually bring substance to our poverty simulation by actually having someone who experienced extreme poverty.”
Other week-long events conducted by Gamma Sigma Sigma, Circle K and NLSA included a canned food drive, a guest speaker from Interfaith Hospitality Network, a hunger dinner and a 30-hour famine.
“In the hunger dinner, people can pick out a random identity and depending on their income bracket, they get fed foods that they can afford,” Hutcheson said. “The 30-hour famine is where people actually are fasting for those hours to raise money with games and activities. All of the money raised will go toward the World Vision national organization.”
Hutcheson said plans are in the works to host another poverty awareness event in the fall with a sleep-out on front campus to represent a homeless shelter and to imagine life without a house.
“We care about this issue and we care about people in poverty,” Hutcheson said. “By starting this up again, we hope to have more students come and get community leaders engaged. This issue doesn’t just go away.”
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